DOJ requests Michigan data on COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes

The U.S. Department of Justice wants Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and three other states governed by Democrats to turn over data related to nursing homes and COVID-19 deaths.
The governor agreed to provide the data, but blasted the request, labeling it a partisan stump aimed at helping President Donald Trump’s re-election bid.


In a news release Wednesday, the department said the requests were sent to states “that issued orders which may have resulted in the deaths of thousands of elderly nursing home residents.”
Whitmer defended her actions, arguing the letter relies more on politics than health policy.


“The fact that this letter was sent during the middle of the Republican National Convention week to four Democratic governors should make it crystal clear that this is nothing more than election year politics by an administration that is more concerned with the president’s re-election campaign than protecting Michigan seniors,” Whitmer said in a statement late Wednesday.
“We will review this letter and respond as appropriate. However, Americans would all be better served if the Trump administration stopped the partisan games and focused on delivering a real plan to defeat COVID-19.”


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Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in Michigan and throughout the country have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. As of Tuesday, the state reported 8,146 residents infected with coronavirus and 2,083 who died of COVID-19. There also have been 4,301 confirmed cases among staff, with 21 staff members dying because of COVID-19.


But the DOJ news release goes a step further, accusing Michigan and the other states of requiring nursing homes to accept patients who have COVID-19. An executive order from Whitmer allowed for people infected with the coronavirus to be transferred and isolated at nursing homes that also house people who are not infected. There is no direct evidence the policy led to illness or death, as reported by the Associated Press in June.


On May 20, Whitmer issued an executive order mandating nursing homes make “all reasonable efforts” to create separate units for residents who have COVID-19. The order also required homes to provide protective equipment to staff and not accept COVID-19 patients unless they have dedicated isolation units.
A spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services referred comment to the governor.


In addition to Michigan, the Justice Department asked for information from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The request comes two months after Republicans in Congress called on attorneys general in these same states to investigate nursing home policies, and echoes similar calls for inquiry from state-level Republicans.
This is not the first time Whitmer has faced scrutiny for her decisions on nursing homes. During a June congressional hearing, representatives asked Whitmer why she waited until May 20 to issue more directives on nursing homes and why she did not mandate testing at homes.


Whitmer told the lawmakers that in retrospect, there are “probably a number of decisions we would have made some adjustment on.”
Roughly two weeks after the hearing, the state health department announced a requirement for testing nursing home residents and staff.


In a letter dated Wednesday, the
Justice Department outlined what it wants Whitmer to provide for publicly operated nursing homes:


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The news release states the department is considering opening an investigation under a federal law that protects people in nursing homes, but no final decision has been made.


“Protecting the rights of some of society’s most vulnerable members, including elderly nursing home residents, is one of our country’s most important obligations,” Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Justice Depart…
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